Two fledgling Atlanta-based filmmakers made a splash at Fantastic Fest, an Austin, Texas festival, with their debut production called “Brutal Season”.

Gavin Fields and his wife, Dunwoody native Shelby Grady, raised more than $130,000 to produce the film, which is described by one critic as “a Death of a Salesman-style stage play set in a family home during the burning summer of 1948 in Brooklyn.”

The movie, with Fields as the writer/director and Grady starring as Marianne Trouth, has received glowing reviews from several critics. 

Nathanial Muir called the film a “well-written and depressing tale of past regrets.”

“’Brutal Season’ is an exposition heavy watch that uses pacing to keep the audience engaged,” he said in a review (aiptcomics.com/2022/09/28/fantastic-fest-brutal-season-burnt-ends). “While everything takes place in one setting, images are seen in the window that display memories or ideas. Again, this is noticeable but never overpowering.” 

Reel News Daily said the “Brutal Season” is “like an immersive theater experience on film. This slow-burn thriller is not what I expected, in all the right ways.”

Fantastic Fest, which just wrapped up its event, according to its website, specializes in “horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world.”

“Brutal Season” was shot in December 2020 on a single stage set built at Southern Adventist University outside Chattanooga, Tenn., according to Fields and Grady. 

Shelby Grady and Gavin Fields on the set of “Brutal Season.”

“During the pandemic, we tried the DIY thing, but that just wasn’t working for us, so instead we decided to make a movie,” Grady said. “We threw all the money we had into it and fundraised the remaining money from Atlanta and Dunwoody donors.”

The movie has several Atlanta connections besides Grady, who grew up in the Branches neighborhood in Dunwoody. One of its stars, Shuler Hensley, is a graduate of Grady’s alma mater, Westminster School, and is currently the artistic director of City Springs Theatre.

The set was designed by Dex Edwards, who served for six years as resident designer at the Alliance Theatre and was a design consultant for 1996 Centennial Olympic Park. 

Fields said the couple is thankful for the generosity shown by the Atlanta community.

“We are proud of the project and how it turned out,” he said. “We are so grateful for everyone in the Atlanta area who supported us financially and in other ways.”

Now that the film is finished, the couple said they are focusing on getting a distribution deal, no easy task for newcomers to the movie industry.

“If you don’t have any (film industry) connections, it’s kind of like screaming into the void,” Fields said. “But we are grateful for the exposure that events like the Fantastic Fest can bring to an independent film like ours.”

Cathy Cobbs covers Dunwoody for Reporter Newspapers and Rough Draft Atlanta. She can be reached at cathy@roughdraftatlanta.com